Aurora Gomez

Aurora Gomez

Apprentice with Professor Baquedano-Lopez (Education)

Comparing science education in religious vs. public school education

Please tell us about the project you are currently working on.

I should give you some background. When I first started here (in fall 2005), Professor Baquedano-Lopez had me look at tapes of projects that involved religious schools, Sunday Schools in particular. After that I analyzed data from another project, which was about how to make science more "user-friendly" for elementary school kids by providing teachers with more materials and guidance about curriculum planning. It was a pilot program that was trying to make science easier for the students to grasp, more accessible, especially for kids from poorer schools where the science curriculum might be not very strong.

At the moment, I am looking at the connection between these two projects: I am looking at the differences and similarities between the public school education and the religious school education in regards to science. Professor Baquedano-Lopez is also having me look at how the concept of time is socialized within the two settings.

In addition to the Sunday School education, there is also some data on year-round schools, and I am comparing what those two projects address as far as time and knowledge are concerned: where within each setting does knowledge reside? For example, in the religious education it would be the bible.

How was the data collected?

For one, there are the actual tapes from recording the classes in both projects, and I watch the tapes. Then there are tape logs from other researchers who watched the tapes and took notes on specific aspects they were supposed to look for. For example, in the Religion project there are tape logs that only look at prayer, or tape logs that only look at songs.

There are the tape logs, but there are also notes on specific pieces of narratives, and there are field notes - there is a lot of different data - too much data (laughs). When you finally remember a connection, you have to fish through it all again to find the 5-minute segment you vaguely remember seeing. But in any case, that is what I am doing, describing connections. Patricia (Baquedano-Lopez) and her graduate students are working on a theory right now, which is part of a book that will be written later down the road.

What does a typical day in your apprenticeship look like; what do you do?

Usually, I am here Fridays from 9 to noon. When I come in, sometimes grad students will be here doing their own work, sometimes Patricia will be here, sometimes other URAP students. We all float in and out. I usually just head over here to the computer. I already finished looking at the tapes from the public elementary schools, so now I am going through my notes on the tapes that relate to science and knowledge. Right now, I am also looking through the field notes and other materials for the religious schools, trying to find corresponding material. I collect everything in a word document, and then I write my interpretation of how it relates to what Professor Baquedano Lopez is looking for.

How often do you have meetings?

Usually, at the beginning of the semester when we schedule our hours, Professor Baquedano-Lopez picks the days when she is here. She is usually here Fridays, but she is now also working at the Latino Policy Research Center, so she is not here as often. But I see her at least every other week, not necessarily to meet about something specific, but if I have issues, and if something comes up I just tell her and we meet. Otherwise, I'll just email her, and if it is something we really need to discuss, we'll make time.

What do you appreciate the most about this research experience?

I appreciate the most Patricia. I have maybe one other professor I feel comfortable bothering during office hours, and I feel very comfortable around her. And I like that the most.

So it is the connection that you have been able to establish with a faculty member.

Yes, and when she runs into me or the other URAP students, she says things like "Hey, I got some other students who are applying to grad school, do you need a letter of recommendation?" She goes out of her way for us, and I like that; it makes me feel comfortable.

You have been doing this for quite some time - this is your fourth semester. I hope this means that you are having a good experience! Is there anything that surprised you about doing research? Is there anything that was different from what you had expected?

I liked it, and that was surprising. My previous research experience was working in a lab, in Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, and I just processed mouse colons and put them on slides and looked at them. It was interesting at first, but after a while it got boring. I felt that I was dealing with too much mouse colon for one lifetime...(laughs).

How did you find that research position?

That was before I transferred - it was through the Biology Scholars Program, which works with Transfer Students to get them internship positions for the summer on campus. It was interesting, and I was learning something very valuable, which is that I don't want to go into that kind of research; I don't want to work in a bio lab, period.

That is a valuable thing to discover!

And I feel like research in the field of education seems more applicable to real life than in the sciences, because if we've discovered something now then maybe we can apply what relates to mice to humans in ten years from now. And I feel that research in the social sciences is more directly about and based on people, so it is more directly applicable to them.

What kind of advice would you like to give to prospective apprentices?

Find a subject that you are interested in as opposed to "I want to be in Medical School, so I need to be in a science lab". I know that a part of me really wanted to do that even though I don't really like working with microscopes and mice and tissue samples, because I want to go to Med School, but I was thinking that in the long run it will be more beneficial for me if I do research that I actually enjoy so that when they ask me why I did this for four semesters, I can give a good reason, as opposed to "Well, I didn't really like it, but I want to go to Med School, so that is the only thing to do".

And if you realize after a semester or more that it is really not your passion, find something else, keep searching. Is there anything else you would like to comment on?

That some professors are nicer than others. I have a friend who applied to URAP and he said that during the interview it was really scary when he went to meet with the professor he applied to, and he ended up not getting any of the apprenticeships. For me is was different. Professor Baquedano-Lopez was the only one who responded, and she was very friendly during the interview. This was my first semester here, and I felt reassured. I know my friend was a little traumatized and said "No, I don't want to apply again because I'm not going to get the position anyway". But I think a part of it is that sometimes people don't read the description that well and they think "I'm a psychology major, I just apply for the psychology projects". When you read the description carefully you realize "Hmm, I don't think this will actually be a good fit for me because of what they are asking for and what they will have me do". That might have been part of it.

I do think that faculty pick that up in the initial conversation. They probably realize how closely a student has read the description, and if they have gone beyond what is in the description, maybe to the faculty mentor's homepage or lab page to gather as much information as possible, so there are different elements that come together.

Thank you for doing this interview!